“bulldozing a healthy disagreement into grumbling unanimity”: a singularly inefficient, nerve-sucking “way to govern without governing” — and the only one that works: “if not prone to a meaningful consensus it is not worth deciding.” ■    Human is a consensus animal; the unthinking, unquestioning “urge of belonging” used to stabilize progressively larger social groupings until the tide turned around: in the vacuum of early sparsening, the consensus instinct was almost unexercised except at the lowest levels of family or workgroup. In a world without majority rule or media-amplified issues, a new “post-democracy consensus” evolved as a conscious — taught — behavioral mode that filters the primal conformity instinct through many layers of strangening and deliberate undo; “cat herding” techniques and language (standards of sense-making, supermajority thresholds, argument routines, stop words, even voting) have been developing in collectives of all kinds from snippiest projects to slow hierarchical fandoms of princes and priests. Familys ideal of wordless, transparent, happiness-compatible consensus is elusive; as a group grows, the process gets more formalized and nontrivial outcomes harder to achieve (esp. when the discussion is open and outside concern voices may join) — but consensus-seeking is mandatory, if only as a prerequisite for external arbitration. ■    Consensual outcomes are rarely very efficient or satisfying; often, the authors of a consensus retro-find the best reasons to regret the choice. For all the checks and balances, a charismatic minority may still harangue the rest into a pseudoconsensus, just as an inert majority may block a much needed change (keeping the status quo, whatever it may be in the context, is the norm when no consensus can be forged or faked). Practice nourishes two essential skills: recognizing a consensus that already exists if unverbalized — and recognizing when none is achievable: a lightheartedness to leave once you find yourself outside a consensus on what matters to you.

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